Game changer – J K Rowling, Pottermore and ebooks without a publisher

The internet has been abuzz lately since mega-billionaire-super-author, J K Rowling (of Harry Potter fame, in case you’ve been a monk in a cave for more than ten years) announced Pottermore. In a nutshell, it goes like this:

After seven books and eight films and more merchandising than you can fit in George Lucas’s ego, Rowling has now announced a website which will be a complete interactive experience for all ages based on her stories. Along with that she’s announced that for the first time ebook editions of the Harry Potter series will be made available. Well, legal ebook editions that is. Rowling truly is the master at monetising her ideas and characters, having turned some books about wizards at school into an international behemoth across all media.

With Pottermore, as the press release says:

For this groundbreaking collaborative project, J.K. Rowling has written extensive new material about the characters, places and objects in the much-loved stories, which will inform, inspire and entertain readers as they journey through the storylines of the books. Pottermore will later incorporate an online shop where people can purchase exclusively the long-awaited Harry Potter eBooks, in partnership with J K Rowlingโ€™s publishers worldwide, and is ultimately intended to become an online reading experience, extending the relevance of Harry Potter to new generations of readers, while still appealing to existing fans.

It’s a pretty inspired concept. Of course, Rowling with her riches and business partners is the kind of author with the kind of clout you’d need to make something like this happen.

The real game changer among all this, however, despite the partnership comment above, is that the ebooks will be essentially self-published. Her publishers, Bloomsbury, Scholastic, etc., don’t own the eletronic rights – and I bet they’re really happy about that. So Rowling is planning to make the ebooks available directly through Pottmore. Of course, when Rowling self-publishes, she’s has a team of people behind her and her own company on the case, so it’s not like she sits there on her own and uploads files to Amazon. But the key here is the lack of a third-party publisher.

The Kindle will accept epub format ebooks soon and the announcement that the Harry Potter ebooks will be available from October seems to fit in with that, so it’s likely the books will be in epub. That certainly does seem to be the prominent format and, aside from Amazon’s mobi format, has been the industry leader all along. Once the Kindle accepts epub too, we have the first stage of industry standardisation and that’s a good thing for all of us. Perhaps we have Rowling to thank in part for forcing that change – who knows who talked to who while this was getting off the ground.

Authors leveraging their existing print success to manage their own ebook releases is nothing new – just see J A Konrath’s example for one. But nothing on this scale has happened before and we can see things shifting a little more on the axis. I’ve said it before – we’re living in exciting times in writing and publishing and the ride ain’t over yet. I wonder how many kids will get an ereader with a set of Harry Potter books on board for Xmas this year? This will be a big step in mainstreaming ereaders, which are becoming more and more mainstream anyway. On a recent flight to Melbourne I noticed several people reading from Kindles and Sony Readers while waiting for my plane.

The kind of cross-media storytelling and promotion which Pottermore represents is certainly not new, but we’ve seen nothing on this scale before. Just the official announcement video is better than any book trailer a lowly author like myself could hope for. I wonder where we go from here?

Here’s the official release video from Rowling herself:

And here’s the Pottermore site.

Interesting times indeed. What do you think? Is this a good thing or not? Where do things go from here?

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15 thoughts on “Game changer – J K Rowling, Pottermore and ebooks without a publisher

  1. As a Harry Potter fan, I have to say I am well pleased to find out about Pottermore. As a librarian, I also think digital library patrons really pushed Amazon to change its lack of flexibility for checking out free library ebooks on the kindle. Last summer, patrons at my library started asking about our digital collection. We basically “unofficially” recommended the nook for Barnes & Noble because it was the ereader that was easiest to use, available, and (best of all) compatible with our digital collection. (Though we also plugged Sony Readers as well, but our patrons seemed most familiar/comfortable with the nook.)

    There were many a sad kindle owner we had to turn away and say “sorry, our digital books don’t work on your device.” Afterwards, we discovered that our local Barnes & Noble was plugging our public library as well, and letting their customers know that if they got a nook, they could check out digital library books on it. I bought a nook myself for the very same reason. When amazon tried to be the sole proprietor for ebooks that would be compatible on their device, they REALLY shot themselves in the foot when it came to competing with nook sales.

    Also, the self publishing industry just may be the future, especially if authors can reach their readers more directly, as you point out, with the lack of a third party publisher.

    Thank you so much for sharing. I am real excited about Pottermore!

  2. That’s really interesting about the library lending, thanks for sharing. I agree that Amazon really messed up trying to corner the format angle. The Kindle is a brilliant device – I love mine – and I can’t wait for epub to be compatible. If they’d started that way, most other readers would be dead by now. They had an “iPod opportunity” and blew it.

  3. Alan- I completely agree. The kindle would totally be king of ereaders if they had started that way. Originally, I wanted a kindle as well, maybe someday I’ll get one. I’m a sucker for gadgets when I can afford it. ๐Ÿ™‚ But now that I’ve gotten familiar with my nook, I don’t know if I could justify getting another ereader. haha

  4. According to that article, there is a lot of empowering going on. So how come I just feel confused?

    We can only wait and see what happens with Kindles, Nooks and Pottermore clones. I’m sure there will be plenty of the last-named.

  5. I agree completely. The exciting things here are:

    1) big author self-publishing (yes she needed to be established first but as you say, it’s a big deal)
    2) her books are in the increasingly standard .epub format
    3) she will not be using any kind of server-based DRM, merely watermarking unprotected files (WOW!)
    4) the one thing we don’t know yet is what her pricing strategy will be; extrapolating from her surprising abandonment of crappy, anti-customer DRM, she might provide these books at a price point below the Hachette Agency Model, in which case … watch this space.

    Nr 4 is the only outstanding piece of information as far as I know, and I’m very excited to see what comes out, as it is likely to be a vector pointing at the future (be that cheaper or more expensive ebooks).

  6. Tom – you’re quite right. The non-DRM thing was a big win for me, I was very happy to see that. As for the price point, I think Rowling is the type of author who can charge pretty much what she likes, but I’m really hoping she prices the ebooks at the lower end of the scale. For me personally, an ebook has to be less than $10 and ideally under $5. If she prices the Harry Potter books at anywhere from the $2.99 to $5.99 price point I’ll be ecstatic. $5.99 to $9.99 and I’ll be happy. Over $9.99 and I’ll be very disappointed.

  7. I’m with you – $5-$10 is a reasonable price for ebooks, and your example pricebrackets are spot on. Over $10 will be disappointing, although it will be a solid booster shot for the publishers trying to drive ebooks at that level, and so in that regard still an import battle (skirmish?) in the e-pricing wars of the early 21st century.

  8. Absolutely. It will be more than disappointing, really. You can get all the volumes in paperback for between $6 and $9 (on a quick check). So if the ebook is more than that, we have a problem.

  9. I’ve been carefully drafting my Christmas list to Santa and some sort of e-reader has had pride of place for a while, but I’ve been unsure which way to go (Got the apps on my phone but it’s not the same). If Kindle is going cross-format, I think I have a new frontrunner. Thanks for the good news!

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